Sunday, October 15, 2017

Storyteller’s Rulebook: More Rules for Mini-Mysteries

Last time we talked about the promise and peril of mini-mysteries. It talked about how you always want to be opening some up and ties others up, but you never want too many.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: The audience is always going to hungry for a solution to each mini-mystery, and you might find yourself feeding that hunger when you don’t want to.

In one book, the heroine’s sister was dead but the author chose not to tell us how she died. At one point the heroine reacts mournfully to a scarred tree by the side of the road. That seemed to me to solve the mystery  –clearly she died in a car wreck– so I tied off that mini-mystery. Later, we found out how she really died and it turns out that I was all wrong.

If you withhold a key piece of information from us, remember that we’ll keep trying to guess it on every page, and we’ll seize on anything you give us, so be careful what you give us.

Another variation on this: when you do solve a mystery, don’t be assume we’ll leap where you want us to leap.

In a subplot in a book I read, in a flashback, the heroine was trying to figure out why her friend was acting weird. Then she enters the bathroom at school and finds her friend surreptitiously throwing up, then looking guilty. Suddenly, everything is clear to the heroine. Nothing more needed to be said.

But more did need to be said, because it wasn’t clear to me. In a teen book, throwing up at school could mean one of two things: That she was bulemic or that she was pregnant. Unfortunately, the book then jumped back to the present and never looked back.

Don’t play it too cool. Don’t trust us to figure it out if you can’t trust us to figure it out. Always try to think of any other interpretation that your reader may have. When in doubt, spell it out.

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